Civic Election 2018  

Robert Lee

Robert Lee,

School Trustee Acclaimed. Coldstream/Lavington.


1) Why should voters cast a ballot for you October 20? 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my constituents for acclaiming me to the position of trustee.  I am honoured and pleased with the trust that you have placed in me to serve the parents and children of Coldstream and Lavington for another term.  

As always, I am open to your suggestions as to how I may improve my role in helping children in my community learn in their schools and how we can maximize our resources so all our children will have the best chance to be successful in our schools.

I have been fortunate to have been a school principal for many years before taking on the role of school trustee.  Therefore I have a good understanding of the daily routines and procedures in running a successful school.  

As well, my last term as a trustee has provided me with more knowledge and information in advocating for all children in our school system so that we can provide them with the best education service possible within our school budget.

Currently, I have standing invitations to attend five different school PAC and provide them with my monthly trustee report.  These invitations allow me a regular schedule where I am able to listen to parents about questions about their school, their children and other educational concerns.  

As well, I am able to provide information about our district and system-wide changes and direction so that our parents are aware of them in a timely manner.

2) What is the biggest issue facing the Vernon School District, and as a member of the board of education, how would you work to address this issue? 

The biggest issue facing our school district is always finances and budget.  We are constantly challenged by chronic underfunding.  

For example, technology and computers are becoming more and more important and a daily requirement for students but as technology advances, so does the cost that's involved with it.  Hardware only has a limited useful time frame.  

As software improves and advances, hardware starts becoming obsolete - to the point one day that it is no longer able to provide the proper educational platform that our students need and require.  The same can be said about software and programs. Eventually, that also has to be replaced.

This technological challenge is not only within our schools but also at the administrative level.  For example, our province would like all our school districts to be on the same administrative system but the catch is - the cost of this change is to be from the district's budget, not provided by the province, even though it is the province that wants this changeover.

Our budget is also impacted by ongoing cost increases as well.  Routine maintenance is something that is constantly required but maintenance costs continue to go up.  They do not go down.  Heating, utility and electrical continue to go upwards.

 I'm certain this is something that we've seen in our own lives when we pull into the gas station to fill up.  Multiply this situation on a district-wide basis and it becomes another financial challenge.

Finally, we are faced with 'unexpected' financial challenges.  Last year, the government introduced a new tax: for schools, the most significant new measure is the replacement of MSP premiums with a 1% to 2% payroll tax that will now be paid by the school district.  

This change alone will amount to tens of thousands of dollars - again, this cost will be absorbed by our budget although it is the province which introduced the change but we will face the burden of the extra cost.

As a Board, we need to sit down with our senior management and the rest of our stakeholders and gather input into our budget decision making so that we have a wide support base for how we are supporting our children educationally.

3) Balancing a budget while providing quality education means sometimes making difficult decisions that affect the lives of young children. Can you provide an example of a time when you were forced to make a difficult decision that affected the lives of many? 

 Yes, unfortunately, there are times when a Board must make a difficult financial decision which will impact children.  As noted in my previous response - the budget is one of our most difficult decisions that we have to make.  

This year, after much discussion, the Board decided to charge our 'courtesy riders' a fee for transportation if their child(ren) lived within 2.5 km of their school and they wished to use the school district bus service to bring their child to their school.  

There were approximately 1,500 courtesy riders in our district that were affected by this policy change.  This policy went into effect in September of this year.  Each child was charged an annual fee of $300.

Some background information: last year, our bus transportation was subsidized out of general funds for approximately $1.5 million dollars.  

This is money that could have gone into general education for all our children but it was used for transportation instead. As a Board, our first mandate in the School Act is to 'improve student achievement in the school'.  Therefore the Board passed the motion to charge for courtesy riders to offset some of the transportation costs incurred.

As of this moment, it would appear that even with a transportation charge for courtesy riders, this will not be enough to offset the complete cost of bus transportation within our school district.  

The cost of transportation will be an ongoing budgetary concern this year and will be an item that the newly elected Board will have to work towards a long-term solution.

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